Objective: To ascertain the reported toxicity of current United Kingdom (UK) household products following the launch of new products, such as liquid detergent capsules, and the manufacture of more concentrated formulations.
Methods: Between 1 March 2008 and 30 April 2009 the UK National Poisons Information Service (NPIS) collected prospectively 5939 telephone enquiries relating to household products, approximately 10% of all telephone enquiries received over this period.
Results: The majority of enquiries (n = 3893; 65.5%) concerned children 5 years of age or less and were received predominantly from hospitals (n = 1905; 32.1%), general practitioners (n = 1768; 29.8%) and NHS Direct/NHS 24 (n = 1694; 28.5%). The majority of exposures occurred at home (n = 5795; 97.6%); most exposures were accidental (n = 5561; 93.6%). Liquid detergent capsules were most commonly involved (n = 647), followed by bleaches (n = 481), air fresheners (n = 429), multipurpose cleaners (n = 408), dishwasher products (n = 399) and descalers (n = 397). Exposure to household products occurred mainly as a result of ingestion (n = 4616; 75.8%), with eye contact (n = 513; 8.4%), inhalation (n = 420; 6.9%) and skin contact (n = 187; 3.1%) being less common; 5.1% (n = 313) of enquiries involved multiple routes of exposure. The most commonly reported features were vomiting (ingestion), pain (eye contact), dyspnoea (inhalation) and burns (skin contact). In 5840 of 5939 enquiries the Poisoning Severity Score (PSS) was known. The majority of patients (n = 4117; 70.5%) were asymptomatic (PSS 0), 28.0% (n = 1638) developed minor features (PSS 1), 1.3% (75 patients) developed moderate features (PSS 2) and 0.15% (nine patients) developed serious features (PSS 3). Four of these nine patients made a complete recovery, two died from exposure to drain cleaner and PVC solvent cleaner; the outcome in three was unknown.
Conclusion: In the UK, advice from the NPIS is sought commonly regarding household products, but such exposures only rarely result in clinically serious features. As 65.5% of exposures were in children less than 5 years of age, parents clearly have an important role to play in ensuring that household products are stored safely at all times.